Archive for June, 2006

June 22, 2006: 8:19 am: Blogiversaries, Personal

A Happy Two-Year Blogiversary to Todd Defren of SHIFT Communications in Boston and San Francisco.

Thanks to the Wayback MachineArchive, you can see the birth of PR-Squared, before its very recent move.

June 21, 2006: 10:24 am: Personal, Rants

Make that “walking” ugh.

The doc confirmed it: walking pneumonia. I’m out for a few days.

And for those in the know? No news.

June 16, 2006: 12:21 pm: Personal

There are times when truth is stranger than fiction — and often funnier.

I am in Destin, Florida, having made a Red Cross presentation to the Alabama Bar Association’s Environmental Symposium. The conference is in Florida because Hurricane Katrina limited the number of venues along the Alabama Gulf.

I asked the staff at the Sandestin Resort where my conference was, and as it happens, they sent me to the Alabama Trial Lawyers’ Conference by mistake. There was no recognizable signage, no one with an agenda, and only one person hovering around the breakfast buffet in the hall.

Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.

He wasn’t sure if I was in the right place either. It seems everyone from that conference had already split into two sessions: the Prayer Breakfast, and the Emerging Leaders’ Breakfast. And, in a moment of cosmic clarity and significance, Roy Moore was late for both.

You can’t make this sort of thing up.

June 15, 2006: 6:16 am: Helpful Hints, Personal

When the masks come off, the rules change. When a mask comes off after 44 years, the game changes, and we can learn something in the process.

Spider-Man’s mask was so different in its time, because it covered the whole face. No open eyes, no exposed jutting jowl. It was the perfect cover. Stan Lee needed that mask to be an all-enveloping cocoon for his angst-ridden teen hero, still developing and finding his way.

If you haven’t picked up a comic an issue of episodic graphic literature in quite a while, keep an ear out for this development: the mask comes off.

This might not rise (or fall) to the level of coverage over the re-launch of Batwoman as a lesbian, nor any of the other “shocking” comic revelations of the last few years. But it might be more instructive.

The seven-issue “Civil War” series, launched in May, sees Marvel’s writers taking on the topical issue of civil liberties.

Following a showdown between a group of superheroes and supervillains in which hundreds of innocent civilians are killed, the government passes the Super-Hero Registration Act, requiring all superheroes to reveal their identities and register as “living weapons of mass destruction.”

Marvel’s roster of invincible crime fighters is split into two bitterly opposed factions, with one camp — championed by the likes of Spiderman — in favour of the new law and the other, including Captain America and his ilk, refusing to relinquish anonymity.

“It’s about which side you are on and why you think you are right,” said Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada.

The biggest gain in transparency comes in the department of trust.

The biggest pain in transparency comes as you get judged not just for what you do, but for what you don’t.

Once others know where you have been, and what opportunities for “good” you have passed up, you are accountable for sins of omission, not just commission. Without the mask, a tired and hurt Peter Parker could whistle past danger and not be faulted for righting the wrong. Not anymore.

It will be interesting to see how the comics’ world deals with the new reality: With great transparency, comes great responsibility.

June 14, 2006: 5:22 am: Blogiversaries, Personal

Happy 1st Blogiversary to Steven Silvers over at Scatterbox. Steven’s one of those guys that isn’t worried about momentum or schedules. He just writes very profound things and doesn’t pad them with filler. He’s a must-read.

Here’s a link to his first post in the archive, talking about the San Francisco 49ers’ media training debacle.

June 8, 2006: 12:36 am: Big Blunders, Rants

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? (And how much further would you have gone with a little “help”?)

Baseball is in big, big trouble. While everyone has been patiently waiting to boo Barry Bonds on his drawn-out quest to hit his first clean 40 homers in eight years, America’s pasttime is about to come crashing down. Not at the hands of a titan, nor a fallen hero. Just a journeyman named Jason Grimsley.

Fans have been forgiving for far too long. As embarrassing as last year was for Mark McGuire and Rafael Palmiero and Jason Giambi, at least there was no “smoking gun.” Rampant rumors were not accompanied by reams of positive drug tests stacked on Bud Selig’s table. Any excuse was enough to make season-ticket holders and a syncophant press wink before looking the other way.

Party’s over. A no-name known as Jason Grimsley has not only been raided and questioned over illegal procurement of HGH, but he’s turned state’s evidence by supplying names of other players to investigators. Turns out there is no good test for HGH abuse, even though doping it is against the rules.

Once this floodgate opens, there is no plausible deniability. There is no savior on the horizon — like Cal Ripken salving the wounds of a season-killing strike, or Sosa and McGuire whipping up a home run frenzy in 1998. Oh yeah. That’s a lie too.

This may go down as one of the greatest “reputation management” jobs of all time. Years of promises and spin about maintaining a clean sport are ready to fall on baseball’s noggin, like too many secrets stashed on the top shelf of a crowded closet. It’s too big now to pin on individual players.

To make matters worse, the very nature of the American love affair with baseball is at stake: those geeky statistics that supposedly stand the test of time are now in jeopardy. (Stock tip: find the company that manufactures asterisks and invest now!)

So, let me hear from you:

  1. Can baseball be saved?
  2. How do you handle it?
  3. Does anyone really care anymore?

June 5, 2006: 10:46 am: Personal, Rants

When I was in my teens, I fell in love with the Omen trilogy. Okay, not “in love” as in “watch me burn puppies and mutilate my flesh,” but more alone the lines of appreciation for good storytelling and mastery of suspense. Here was a movie that used very subtle clues and cues, and a wicked soundtrack to scare the bejeesus out of you.

Then they had to ruin it all with a re-make.

I’ve got nothing against the actors involved — I think Liev Schrieber and Julia Stiles are okay, if not a little young to replace Gregory Peck and Lee Remick. I haven’t seen it, but one telling clue indicates to me that this is nothing more than marketing gone amuck.

The thing that got me about the original trilogy was the sly use of the biblical undertones. The way the plot rolled out and used prophecy made your hairs stand up. Not that I for one minute believed that an Antichrist would show up like that, but any scary tale that borrows a couple of millenia of backstory gets my vote.

I don’t think we’re going to break any new ground with the remake, and I base that on the timing. The first hint I ever had of the movie was the poster:

Omen moive poster

Coming, 06/06/06.

This was not a movie that was begging for a remake. It was not flawed in its execution. It was not time to revisit the theme. Instead, it’s as though some marketing genius figured that 06/06/06 would be a great release date for a movie — now let’s go option a script! Already I have misgivings that this thing is being rushed to meet the release date, and won’t live up to the meager potential. Seriously, would you go to see a remade “Omen” if it came out on Memorial Day?

What’s this mean for you? Timing can be an issue for communicators. When you speak (and stay silent) can be an important factor concerning your effectiveness. Are you running beer ads opposite the Super Bowl? Are you planning an event or grand opening on a day when the media is already booked out with other coverage?

However, timing is icing. It does not fill you up, and does not guarantee success. A perfectly-timed piece of crap is… well… you can polish it, but it still stinks.

(Disclaimer: 06/06 is my birthday. That’s not why I liked the original movie, however.)

Update: Ebert didn’t entirely dislike it. Three out of four stars.

June 2, 2006: 10:09 am: Birmingham, Helpful Hints

There’s an old saying in the legal profession. “When the facts are on your side, pound the facts. When the law is on your side, pound the law. And when neither is on your side, pound the table.”

As crass as that sounds, there is a large element of truth — and that is the consistent triumph of emotional massages over rational ones. It’s also why one good story can squash a statistical proof.

This came to mind in the last couple of days, as I was thinking about the impact of a very public and high-profile carjacking in downtown Birmingham. Sandra Gregory was kidnapped just outside of her loft apartment, and forced to drive to several ATMs before her rescue Wednesday afternoon.

One element that got attention was the fact that she lived in a newly rejuvenated loft community, one that is actively recruiting professionals to return to urban lifestyles. Her morning commute to the office was generally a two-block walk.

I covered the crime beat in Birmingham for several years, and know first-hand that the crime rate downtown was perhaps the lowest in the entire metro. But all it takes is one high-profile and emotional incident to enflame stereotypes and set back the image and reputation. I didn’t have time to write this yesterday, but I was curious to see who would go back and proactively offer the counter-story — placing this attack in proper context.

This time, it was a cooperative sponsored by downtown businesses that stepped up:

“We have struggled with a perception of downtown safety,” said Teresa Thorne of the City Action Partnership, or CAP security program, a city-operated service that provides escorts and vehicle assistance to residents, workers and visitors downtown. “In the past 10 years, the downtown crime statistics have dropped 59 percent.”

Teresa Thorne is a retired Birmingham Police Captain, who once ran a precinct. Her CAP unit provides escorts and additional presence in the downtown business community. While her job isn’t “PR” per se, it is her job to make people feel more at ease about the safety of that neighborhood.

Other city-promotion agencies like Operation New Birmingham are being proactive in providing the statistical proof of safety. Unfortunately, facts and stats need to be backed up with individual stories, or they will not overpower quotes like this one:

Former downtown resident Edd Dover, who until February lived in the Watts apartment building where Gregory was abducted, said CAP officers help a lot, but problems begin after 5 p.m. and continue overnight, when CAP officers are off duty.

“In that part of downtown, there’s barely any police presence,” said Dover, who said he moved out partly because of vandalism and vagrants in that apartment’s parking lot. “I’m 6 feet 5, but I was always on guard. There were people in the Dumpster when I’d go take my garbage out, and people asking me for money when I’d walk my dog at 5:30 in the morning. Everybody wants this downtown to succeed, but until they clean it up, it won’t work.”

I borrow again from Annette Simmons in The Story Factor:

“People have more facts than they will ever use. They need a new story to give those facts context.”

The book comes with my highest recommendation.